PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — While smoke still billowed from the torpedoed ruins of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Thomas Griffin's B-25 group took off from its Oregon base to search for Japanese ships or submarines along the West Coast.
They didn't find any, but four months later the group flew from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and attacked Tokyo. The raid inflicted little damage but boosted U.S. morale and embarrassed the Japanese, who launched the ill-fated attack on Midway Island six weeks later, recalled Griffin, a retired Army Air Corps major from Green Township, outside Cincinnati.
The U.S. military "took Japan entirely by surprise," said Griffin, a keynote speaker at a ceremony Sunday commemorating the 67th anniversary of the Japanese raid that marked America's entry into World War II. He was joined by more than 2,000 World War II veterans and other observers.
Usually, the commemoration focuses on the attack on the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor and several other installations on Oahu. But Sunday's remembrance centered more on the months following the raid and on an American response that helped defeat the Japanese and render the U.S. a military superpower.
At 7:55 a.m., the moment on a Sunday morning in 1941 when hundreds of Japanese planes began raining bombs and torpedoes onto Oahu's U.S. military ships and planes, onlookers across from the sunken USS Arizona went silent.
"It was an impossible beginning," Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in his address. "Yet, look at us today." He noted that Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard recently celebrated 100 years of service and still maintains the far-reaching U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Underscoring how far Americans and Japanese have come since Dec. 7, 1941, President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago on Sunday introduced retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a Japanese American born in Hawaii a year after the attack, as his nominee to head the Veterans Affairs Department.
Sunday's commemoration featured a performance by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, morning colors, a Hawaiian blessing, a rifle salute by the U.S. Marine Corps and a recognition of those who survived the attack.
After the moment of silence observing the beginning of the attack, the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon rendered honors to the Arizona, which still lies in the harbor with its dead.
Nearly 2,400 Americans were killed and almost 1,180 injured when Japanese fighters bombed and sank 12 naval vessels and heavily damaged nine others.
The Arizona, which sank in less than nine minutes after an armor-piercing bomb breached its deck and exploded in the ship's ammunition magazine, lost 1,177 sailors and Marines. About 340 of its crew members survived.
Other major installations on Oahu, such as Wheeler Field and Kaneohe Naval Air Station, also were attacked.
This year's ceremony came weeks after construction began on a new visitor's center for the USS Arizona Memorial. The existing center, built 28 years ago on reclaimed land, is sinking. Officials have said it will be unusable in a few years.
The event was held a half-mile away at Kilo Pier of Naval Station Pearl Harbor, the planned site for next year's commemoration, as well. The new visitor's center is scheduled to open Dec. 7, 2010.